What Champion Leaders do differently

There is no doubt the world of work has changed dramatically over the last few decades with the pace of change being driven by technology, globalisation and demographics.

While all these shifts create challenges, they also create incredible opportunities.

As an example, without shifts in technology and the way we view it, the ‘High Street’ would still have a powerful hold over the way we shop and the mighty Amazon wouldn’t exist.  Consumers can now shop more conveniently, anytime of the day or night!

Demographic shifts have brought new groups to the workplace and for those of us who work in Gender Balance, one in particular is the focus.  Women.  So what is this opportunity?  What are the challenges?  Why do we care? Given this is a market that most companies have been working on for a long time, why has there been such little progress?  Many companies put Gender Balance in their top five priorities, yet how do we make this a priority for everyone?  Once we make it a priority, what exactly are we asking leaders, managers, employees to do?

We have been on a mission to find the answers to these questions. Who better to ask than the senior leaders themselves…but with one key differentiator.   Finding the senior leaders who are already doing this.  Not just talking about it…doing it… in their day to day.  Champion Leaders.

So to the first question, what is the opportunity?  One answer was by far the most frequent.  The opportunity is access to the best talent.  Chris Sullivan described it this way.  He said ‘if you’re a CEO and you’re not using all the available talent, then you should be up for questioning.  You can’t do it with only half the talent.’

Mark Jopling took a similar view, ‘an organisations long-term sustainability depends on their success in attracting and retaining talent. Many technologies can be copied, though the people you hire, how you lead them and enable them to personally flourish differentiates organisations. It is also empirically proven beyond doubt that a team built from a diverse talent pool outperforms a team of similar people.

57% of graduates across OECD countries are female.  The business world now has different talent to choose from– and many do this well at graduate level. Within a year though, a Gender Pay Gap kicks in, with male graduates earning 8% more than their female counterparts. So while recruiting Gender Balance at graduate level may not be an issue, enabling them to personally flourish, building teams from a diverse talent pool, maintaining a level playing field is proving to be.

So what do these champion leaders do differently on a daily basis?  The expectation is often that change involves a radical shift, yet over the course of the research it turns out that there are a number of small tweaks that actually lead to a big difference in the outcome.   So what are these small actions that lead to a better result?

Chris Stylianou said ‘there is an element of cajoling’.  This is such an important message.  For the most part, human beings do not like any change.  We cling on to the ‘this is how we have always done it’ mind-set like our lives depend on it.

When it comes to Gender Balance, there is very much a need for frequent cajoling – gentle, yet positive reminders.  So here are a couple of examples of challenges our interviewees identified and their ‘cajole’ to counter them.

Challenge: Women are less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities, roles, assignments, promotions.

Cajole: Encourage and support those who see themselves as not ‘ready’ or not ‘extroverts’. Give them a metaphorical ‘shove’.

Cajole: Work the other side by pointing out the individual’s strengths and how they are suited to the opportunity, the role, the assignment.

Challenge: To secure senior roles you must work full time standard hours.

Cajole: We are all human beings and we all, male and female, have full lives.  Make it public knowledge when you’re going to the school play, leaving early to care for elderly parents etc. and actively encourage others to do it too.

Cajole:  Publicise when you prioritise life over work to give everyone in the organisation permission to say no to meeting times or travel if it isn’t business critical and conflicts with external responsibilities.

Whilst the focus here is gender, this strategy leads to doing better by other groups too.  Sadly, there are no ‘silver bullets’ though.   Which is why those who are serious about making the workplace a more diverse and inclusive environment don’t just say things once – they cajole, cajole and cajole a bit more.

How are you cajoling to make a difference?